Thomas Suddes: Abortion rights could be guaranteed through Ohio constitutional amendment

·4 min read

With the U.S. Supreme Court likely to overturn Roe vs. Wade by letting each state regulate abortion as it wishes, the General Assembly’s Democrats are proposing a state constitutional amendment to guarantee Ohio’s women access to abortion.

It’s likely that if the proposal reached Ohio’s ballot, voters would approve it, which is required for amendments to the state constitution. But getting the measure on the ballot would first require the approval of 60 Ohio House members and 20 state senators, which is why Democrats said that their plan, at a minimum, would advance discussion of the issue.

Abortion in Ohio: Democratic lawmakers want to protect abortion access by amending Ohio's constitution

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine greets a young attendee during the Greater Columbus Right to Life rememberance of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a woman's legal right to an abortion, on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine greets a young attendee during the Greater Columbus Right to Life rememberance of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a woman's legal right to an abortion, on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

Abortion-rights protections up hill battle

Democrats hold only 35 House seats, and eight Senate seats. And while some Republican legislators may privately be pro-choice, they’re unlikely to provide enough votes to put Democrats’ plan on the ballot. The only other way to get the abortion-rights protections on the statewide ballot would be to gather valid signatures from at least 442,958 registered voters.

Key Democrats sponsoring the proposed amendment are Sens. Nickie Antonio, of Lakewood, and Sandra Williams, of Cleveland, and Reps. Jessica Miranda, of suburban Cincinnati’, and Michelle LePore-Hagan, of Youngstown.

Even getting the measure to the House or Senate floors for a vote would be challenging. A committee of each body would have to slate the amendment for action. And neither House Speaker Robert Cupp or Senate President Matt Huffman, both Lima Republicans, is likely to want that. Statehouse Republicans, including Gov. Mike DeWine, have a long-standing alliance with the anti-abortion movement, and letting Ohio’s voters signify support for choice — which they likely would — isn’t on the GOP’s Ohio agenda. Big surprise.

Opinion: Anti-abortion GOP should show true pro-life concern

Anti-abortion efforts date back to 1800s

Abortion isn’t a new issue in Ohio. The General Assembly passed the state’s first anti-abortion law — with an exception for saving a mother’s life — in 1834, when Andrew Jackson was president. The General Assembly toughened that law in 1867, just two years after the Civil War ended.

This year, the potential trap for Republicans is that, for the first time in Ohio history, a major party, in this case, the Democratic Party, has nominated a woman — former Dayton Nan Whaley — for governor.

Whaley is resoundingly pro-choice. And she’s challenging the re-election of Republican DeWine, who has always been 100% right-to-life.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. tsuddes@gmail.com
Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. tsuddes@gmail.com

Maybe, just maybe, the DeWine-Whaley battle would serve as a statewide proxy for voters’ stances on Roe vs. Wade. That is, a statewide ballot issue among what’s claimed to be a pro-choice Ohio electorate could turn up the heat on the GOP.

Thomas Suddes: Will Whaley best DeWine, can Vance clobber Ryan and what about abortion?

But Statehouse Republicans would rather turn up its own kind of heat — by bashing LGBTQ people, especially trans people; by bashing migrants; and by bashing those teachers and authors who think that maybe, just maybe, race has played at least some role in our country’s history.

Could 'thirsty' state sue Ohio?

Thanks to Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted for an important reminder about a crucial step Ohio has taken to protect Lake Erie’s water from raids by drought-stricken Western states, a possibility mentioned here last week.

In 2008, when Husted was the Ohio House’s speaker, the General Assembly passed, and Democratic then-Gov. Ted Strickland signed, Ohio’s ratification of the Great Lakes Compact. Then-Rep. Matt Dolan, a Chagrin Falls Republican now in the state Senate, sponsored the ratification.

The compact is an agreement among America’s Great Lake states, and Canada’s Ontario and Quebec, to protect the lakes, which hold “about 21% of the world's supply of surface fresh water,” according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. (And according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, “about 2 million people, or one-third of the Great Lakes Watershed total population, live in the Lake Erie Watershed.”

The battle over water: Great Lakes too valuable a resource to ignore

The Legislative Service Commission reports the Great Lakes Compact “prohibits, with certain exceptions, all new or increased diversions of water resources from the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin into another watershed.”

That doesn’t mean a thirsty Western state, say, Arizona, couldn’t sue the Great Lakes states to get around the compact. And the U.S. Supreme Court, not state courts, handles state vs. state lawsuits. Given the high court’s makeup, the outcome would be anyone’s guess.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. tsuddes@gmail.com

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Suddes: Will Ohio's constitution be amended to allow abortion access?